OECD Pushes Facebook-Style Personality Profiling of Students Worldwide


In an article for The Daily Caller last week, APP senior fellows Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins clearly explained the dangers and consequences for education of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Those consequences are nicely summarized as follows:

In the No Free Lunch Department, Doug Levin of EdTech Strategies, LLC warned, “Privacy experts have long been concerned about schools pushing parents onto the third-party platforms that are based on selling advertising and user data.” Facebook and ed-tech companies view your child as an economic unit, no more, no less, and whether he actually masters any academic content from using their platforms is strictly secondary to how much money they can make from exploiting his personal data.

Now we are also learning that even financial publications are warning about the cancerous spread of social emotional learning (SEL) assessment and profiling on a global scale. The eight-hundred-pound gorilla in this process is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the developer of the PISA international comparison test. The Middle East North Africa Financial Network (MENAFN) has chronicled OECD’s machinations in this realm in an article entitled, “Why education is embracing Facebook-style personality profiling for schoolchildren.”

The article describes how both Facebook/Cambridge Analytica and OECD have developed and are using personality surveys based on the “Big Five” personality traits — “openness,” “conscientiousness,” “extroversion,” “agreeableness,” and “neuroticism” or (OCEAN). The brand new, upcoming 2019 OECD international Study on Social Emotional Learning for middle and high school students is described as a “computer-based self-completion questionnaire” that will assess students on these traits. The common foundation of this new OECD test and the Cambridge Analytica personality test are the same.

The purpose of the OECD test is for workforce development, which uses inaccurate predictive testing of this subjective SEL to steer students toward career paths they may not want and close off others:

The assumption behind the test is that social and emotional skills are important predictors of educational progress and future workplace performance. Large-scale personality data is therefore presumed by the OECD to be predictive of a country’s potential social and economic progress.

The article goes on to say how much power OECD wields in international education policy, including in SEL:

The OECD is already a powerful influence on the moulding of national education policies. Its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has reshaped school curricula, assessments and whole systems in the global education race. So could its emphasis on personality testing similarly reshape education policy and school practices?

The organisation is seeking to measure student personality to gather policy-relevant insights for participating countries. The inevitable consequence in countries with disappointing results will be new policies and interventions to improve students’ personalities to ensure competitiveness in the global race. Just as PISA has influenced a global market in products to support the skills tested by the assessment, the same is now occurring around social-emotional learning and personality development.

It also describes the new efforts in curriculum and software that are being developed in response to OECD’s SEL promotion:

Already, a commercial market of ed-tech apps and products, such as ClassDojo , has emerged to support and measure the development of students’ social-emotional skills in schools. Likewise, educational policies have begun to focus on social-emotional categories of learning, such as grit, growth mindset and character. The Department for Education [of OECD] supports the development of character skills in schools…The emphasis will move further towards capturing intimate data from students, mining beneath the surface of their examination grades to capture interior details about their personalities. Advanced education technologies are already under development to see into the submerged depths of students’ personalities and emotions.

There are of course many dangers and problems with this approach that we have frequently addressed, such as here and here. These include:

  • Lack of agreement by researchers on what SEL really is and how to measure it;
  • SEL’s subjective nature;
  • The danger of this inaccurate data having eternal life in longitudinal databases endangering future schooling, careers, military service, and gun ownership;
  • That SEL data can and has been used for political purposes, endangering freedom of conscience; and
  • Sharing of data without consent between government agencies and between government and private entities.

Interestingly, the MENAFN article also lists some important problems, which is somewhat surprising given the usual focus of these types of publications on markets and profits:

  • It risks reframing public education in terms of personality modification, driven by the political race for future economic advantage, rather than the pursuit of meaningful knowledge and understanding. It treats children as little indicators of future labour markets, and may distract teachers from other curriculum aims.
  • As education consultant Joe Nutt wrote in the Times Educational Supplement last year, ‘If you make data generation the goal of education then data is what you will get. Not quality teaching.’

I also have covered the effort by OECD to begin this personality molding, assessment, and data mining in the preschool years. Even more dangerous is the idea posited in their 2015 report about coordinating between government and family to develop the proper, government-required attitudes:

Policy makers, teachers, parents and researchers can help expand children’s growth potential by actively engaging in skill development within the domains that they are responsible for. However, given that “skills beget skills”, education policies and programmes need to ensure coherence across learning contexts (i.e. family, school and the community) and stages of school progression (i.e. across primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schooling). This is an important way to maximise the returns to skills investment over the life cycle.

It is bad enough that federal busybodies want to plan the lives and futures of our children, but it is absolutely unacceptable to have this happening on a global scale. We must continue to fight, not only to protect the hearts and minds of our children and our rights and autonomy as parents, but also to protect our national sovereignty. Let us also hope that President Trump continues to uphold his stated goal of protecting American interests.

Karen R. Effrem, MD

Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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